I’ve been thinking lately about paper.
After the Great Powerbook Crash of ’06, I’m growing ever more skeptical of digital media. Even though I do a great deal of my drawing on the computer, I’m rediscovering the joy and permanence of filling notebooks.
And ever since we had to cancel our subscription to the New York Times, it’s been a real treat to head over to the future parents-in-law’s to dirty up my fingers with newsprint.
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What else got me thinking about paper?
Cartoonist Kevin Huizenga (who has a new book coming out soon) had a great post a few days ago about Bill Blackbeard, the history of archiving Krazy Kat strips, and Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold. Here’s the jacket copy from Double Fold:
Since the 1950s, our country’s libraries have followed a policy of “destroying to preserve”: They have methodically dismantled their collections of original bound newspapers, cut up hundreds of thousands of so-called brittle books, and replaced them with microfilmed copies — copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustrations, and deteriorate with age. Half a century on, the results of this policy are jarringly apparent: There are no longer any complete editions remaining of most of America’s great newspapers. The loss to historians and future generations is inestimable.
In my brief tenure working in a public library, I’ve witnessed this depressing phenomenon first-hand. Due to budget restrictions, libraries are increasingly being run as retail chains (like everything else in this country, the pull towards privatization is strong), and so, in a bid for more space, the mantra is if you can get it online, drop the paper copies (so we can make room to put in more computers for tax payers to check e-mail and look at porn.)
The problem is, the majority of online references include no layout or graphics. So yes, you can read that Plain Dealer article from 5 years ago, but you won’t see any photography or the graphics that went with it. (Some databases, like the New York Times Historical Database or say, The Complete New Yorker, remedy this problem beautifully by using PDF technology.)
The only reason Krazy Kat survived this coup was through the efforts of a dedicated fan who clipped each and every color strip and donated his run to a historical society in Wisconsin.
Otherwise, the strips would be rotting in a dumpster somewhere.
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Cool fact: 2 hours away, the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State has six tractor-trailers worth of old newspapers that Bill Blackbeard sold to the university.
I’m researching a good deal of The Book through microfilm, and therefore, spending a lot of time squinting.
The nice thing about paper? It’s ridiculously high-resolution. No squinting required. And you can stick it in a big file folder to sift through later.
Edward Tufte, in his brilliant tirades against PowerPoint, has repeatedly championed this triumph over digital media:
Overhead projectors and PowerPoint tend to leave no traces; instead give people paper, which they can read, take away, show others, make copies, and come back to you in a month and say “Didn’t you say this last month? It’s right here in your handout.” The resolution of paper (being read by people in the audience) must be ten times the resolution of talk talk talk or reading aloud from bullet lists projected up on the wall. A paper record tells your audience that you are serious, responsible, exact, credible. For deep analysis of evidence and reasoning about complex matters, permanent high-resolution displays are an excellent start.
So yeah. Let’s hear it for paper!